Voices: A Sense of Insight


Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary: Laura Francis

 

Sometimes called the Galapagos of North America, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, National Park and Santa Barbara Channel region support an incredible diversity of life. This results from both upwelling of nutrient rich water from the depths of the ocean and the mixing of warm currents from the south and cool water currents from the north.

This dynamic transition zone is home to myriad sea life from tiny plankton to the gigantic blue whales, and plenty of interesting ocean dwellers in between. These include meadows of emerald green eelgrass, forests of giant brown kelp and multicolored rocky reefs teeming with life.

The four northern Channel Islands—Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel—are an extension of the Santa Monica Mountain range, and were never connected to the mainland. During the last ice age they were connected to each other in one single island called Santarosae. While the islands appear to sit far out on the horizon, debris, sediments and pollution from watersheds that drain into the Santa Barbara Channel can impact them during large winter storms.

The islands have been a lifeplace for people for the past 13,000 years. The Chumash lived there for much of that time, also navigating the channel in plank canoes called tomols. And thanks to an annual tomol crossing to Santa Cruz Island, the connection to the islands and their ocean culture remains vibrant.

My first trip to the Channel Islands was in 1978 when I was a 6th grade student
at Brandon elementary school in Goleta. Our class was visiting Santa Cruz Island as part of a special curriculum focusing on the Channel Islands. It was
my first time on a boat, and I vaguely remember a queasy stomach, but mostly I remember learning about the amazing ocean creatures I saw that day, especially a swell shark wriggling inside its leathery egg case.

 

Ranch

 

After that year my family moved away from southern California to Missouri and then Wisconsin, but this experience sparked my curiosity and fascination with the ocean and has been key to my understanding of the value of a healthy ocean and the necessity of protecting its future.

My connection to this place stayed with me into early adulthood and I found
my way back to Santa Barbara for graduate school and a job scuba diving and monitoring the marine life found in Channel Islands kelp forests. I am lucky that I can now combine my favorite pastimes of hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and wildlife watching with my work as an educator.

For the past 17 years my job has been sharing the wonders of the Channel Islands with teachers and school children, and hopefully inspiring a new generation of stewards who can make informed and responsible decisions
about their lives and the environment.

Laura Francis is Education Coordinator at NOAA Channel Islands
National Marine Sanctuary.